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   Chapter 36 OUT IN THE STORM.

Tracy Park By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 12723

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

For half an hour or more before the young people left the house a dark mass of clouds had been rolling up from the west, and by the time that they were out of the grounds and on the highway, the moonlight was wholly obscured and the sky was overcast as with a pall, while frequent groans of thunder and flashes of lightning in the distance told of the fast coming storm.

'Oh, I am so afraid of thunder! Aren't you?' Ann Eliza cried, in terror, as she clung closer to Tom, who, beside her, seemed a very giant, and who did not reply until there came a gleam of lightning which showed him the white face and the loose hair blowing out from under his companion's hat.

There was a little shriek of fear and a smothered cry. 'Oh, Tom, aren't you a bit afraid?'

And then the giant answered the trembling little girl whom he would like to have shaken off, she clung so closely to him 'Thunder and lightning, no!' I'm not afraid of anything except getting wet; and if you are, you'd better run before the whole thing is upon us; the sky is blacker than midnight now. I never saw a storm come on so fast. Can you run?'

'Yes-some,' Ann Eliza gasped out; 'only my boots are so tight and new, and the heels are so high. Do you think we shall be struck?'

This as a peal of thunder louder than any which had preceded it rolled over their heads, making Ann Eliza clutch Tom's arm in nervous terror which was not feigned.

'Struck? No. But don't screech and hang on to me so. We can never get along if you do,' Tom growled; and, taking her by the wrist, he dragged rather than led her through the woods where the great rain-drops were beginning to fall so fast as the two showers-one from the west and one from the south-approached each other, until at last they met overhead, and then commenced a wild and fierce battle of the elements, the southern storm and the western storm each seemingly trying to outdo the other and come off conqueror.

As the thunder and lightning and rain increased, Tom went on faster and faster, forgetting that the slip of a girl, who scarcely came to his shoulders, could not take so long strides as a great, hulking fellow like himself.

'Oh, Tom, Tom-please not so fast. I can't keep up, my heart beats so fast and my boots hurt me so,' came in a faint, sobbing protest more than once from the panting girl at his side; but he only answered:

'You must keep up, or we shall be soaked through and through. I never knew it rain so fast. Take off your boots, if they hurt you. You've no business to wear such small ones.'

He had heard from Maude that Ann Eliza was very proud of her feet, and always wore boots too small for them, and he experienced a savage satisfaction in knowing that she was paying for her foolishness. This was not very kind in Tom, but he was not a kind-hearted man, and he held the whole Peterkin tribe, as he called them, in such contempt that he would scarcely have cared if the tired little feet, boots and all, had dropped off, provided it did not add to his discomfort. They were out of the woods and park by this time, and had struck into a field as a shorter route to Le Bateau. But the way was rough and stony, and Tom had stumbled himself two or three times and almost fallen, when a sharp, loud cry from Ann Eliza smote his ear, and he felt that she was sinking to the ground.

His first impulse was to drag her on, but that would have been too brutal, and stopping short he asked what was the matter.

'Oh, I don't know. I guess I've sprained my ankle. It turned right over on a big stone, you went so fast, and hurts me awfully. I can't walk another step. Oh, what shall we do, and am I going to die?'

'Die? No!' Tom answered, gloomily. 'But we are in an awful muss, and I don't know what to do. Here it is raining great guns, and I am wet to my skin, and you can't walk, you say. What in thunder shall we do?'

Ann Eliza was sobbing piteously, and when a glare of lightning lighted up the whole heavens, Tom caught a glimpse of her face which was white as marble, and distorted with pain, and this decided him. He had thought to leave her in the darkness and rain, while he went for assistance either to the Park House or Le Bateau; but the sight of her utter helplessness awoke in him a spark of pity, and bending over her he said, very gently for him:

'Annie,'-this was the name by which he used to call her when they were children together, and he thought Ann Eliza too long-'Annie, I shall have to carry you in my arms; there is no other way. It is not very far to your home. Come!' and stooping low over the prostrate form he lifted her very carefully and holding her in a position the least painful for her, began again to battle with the storm, walking more carefully now and groping his way through the stony field lest he should stumble and fall and sprain him own ankle, perhaps.

'This is a jolly go,' he said to himself, as he went on; and then he thought of Dick and Jerrie, and wondered how they were getting through the storm, and if she had sprained her ankle and Dick was carrying her in his arms.

'He will sweat some, if he is, for Jerrie is twice as heavy as Peterkin's daughter;' and at the very idea Tom laughed out loud, thinking that he should greatly prefer to have Jerrie's strength and weight in his arms to his light, slim, little girl, who neither spoke nor moved until he laughed, and then there came in smothered tones from the region of his vest:

'Oh, Tom, how can you laugh? Do you think it such fun?'

'Fun! Thunder! Anything but fun!' was his gruff reply, as he went on more rapidly now, for they were in the grounds of Le Bateau, and the lights from the house were distinctly visible at no great distance away. 'We are here at last. Thank the Lord.' he said, as he went up the steps and pulled sharply at the bell.

'Let me down. I can stand on one foot,' Ann Eliza said; and nothing loth Tom put her down, a most forlorn and dilapidated piece of humanity as she stood leaning against him with the light of the piazza lamp falling full upon her.

Her little French boots, which had partly done the mischief, were spoiled, and the heel of one of them had been nearly wrenched off when she stumbled over the stone. Her India muslin, with its sash, and ribbons, and streamers, was torn in places and bedraggled with mud. She ha

d lost her hat in the woods, and the wind and the rain had held high carnival in her loosely-arranged hair, whose color Tom so detested, and which streamed down her back in many little wet tags, giving her the look of a drowned rat after it has been tortured in a trap.

Old Peterkin was reading his evening paper when Tom's sharp summons sounded through the house, making him jump from the chair, as he exclaimed:

'Jiminy hoe-cakes! Who can that be in this storm?'

He had seen Billy off in the train, and had returned home just as the rain began to fall. Naturally both he and his wife had felt some anxiety on Ann Eliza's account, but had concluded that if the storm continued she would remain at Grassy Spring, and if it cleared in time they would send the carriage for her. So neither thought of her when the loud ring came, startling them both so much. It was Peterkin himself who went to the door, gorgeous in a crimson satin dressing gown which came to his feet, but which no amount of pulling would make meet together over his ponderous stomach. An oriental smoking cap was on his head, the big tassel hanging almost in his eyes, and a half-burned cigar between his fingers.

'Good George of Uxbridge!' he exclaimed, as his eye fell upon Tom, from whose soaked hat the water was dripping, and upon Ann Eliza leaning against him, her pale face quivering with pain, and her eyes full of tears. 'George of Uxbridge! What's up? What ails the girl!'

At sight of her father Ann Eliza began to cry, while Tom said:

'She has sprained her ankle and I had to bring her home. She cannot step.'

'Jerusalem hoe-cakes! Spraint her ankle! Can't step! You bring her home! Heavens and earth! Here, May Jane, come lively! Here's a nice how-dy-do! Ann Liza's broke her laig, and Tom Tracy's brung her home!'

As Peterkin talked, he was taking his daughter in his arms and bringing her into the hall, hitting her lame foot against the door, and eliciting from her a cry of pain.

'Oh, father; Oh-h!-it does hurt so. Put me somewhere quick, and take off my boot. I believe I am going to die!'

She was dripping wet, and little puddles of water trailed along the carpet as Peterkin carried her into the sitting room, where he was about to lay her down upon the delicate satin couch, when his wife's housewifely instincts were roused, and she exclaimed:

'No, father. No, not there, when she's so wet, and water spots that satin so dreadfully.'

'What in thunder shall I do with her? Hold her all night?' Peterkin demanded, while Tom deliberately picked up the costly Turkey hearth rug, and throwing it across the couch, said:

'Put her on that.' So Peterkin deposited her upon the rug, hitting her foot again, and sending her off in a dead faint.

'Oh, she's dead! she's dead! What shall we do?' Mrs. Peterkin cried, wringing her hands, and walking about excitedly.

'Do?' Peterkin yelled. 'Hold your yawp, and stop floppin' round like a hen with her head cut off! She ain't dead. She's fainted. Bring some camfire, or alcohol, or hartshorn, or Pond's Extract, or something for her to smell.'

'Yes, yes; but where are they?' Mrs. Peterkin moaned, still flopping around, as her husband had expressed it, while Tom rang the bell and summoned the maid, to whom he gave directions.

'Bring some camphor or hartshorn,' he said. 'Miss Peterkin has fainted, and get off the boot as soon as possible. Don't you see how her foot is swelling?'

This to Peterkin, who made a dive at the boot, which resisted all his efforts, even after it was unbuttoned. The leather, which was soaked through, had shrunk so that it was impossible to remove the boot without cutting it away, and this they commenced to do.

Ann Eliza had recovered her consciousness by this time, and although the pain was terrible she bore it heroically, as piece after piece of the boot was removed, together with the silk stocking which left her poor little swollen foot exposed and bare.

'By Jove, she's plucky!' Tom thought, as he watched the operation and saw the great drops of sweat on Ann Eliza's forehead and her efforts to quiet her mother, pretending that it did not hurt so very much. 'Yes, she's plucky,' and for the first time in his life Tom was conscious of a feeling of something like respect for Peterkin's red-haired daughter. 'She has a small foot, too; the smallest I ever saw on a woman. I do believe she wears twos,' he thought, while something about the little white foot made him think of poor Jack's dead feet, laid under the grass years ago.

In this softened frame of mind he at last said good-night, although pressed by Peterkin to stay and dry himself, or at least take a drink as a preventive against cold, but Tom declined both, saying a hot bath would set him all right. 'Good-bye, Annie. I'm awful sorry for the sprain,' he said, offering her his hand; and as she took it in hers, noticing about the wrist prints of his fingers which had grasped it so tightly and held it so firmly as he dragged her along over stumps, and bogs, and stones, until she sank at his feet, 'I guess I was a brute to race her like that,' he said to himself, as he went out into the darkness and started for home. 'But I didn't want to go with her. I wanted to be with Jerrie, who, I have no doubt, went straight along, without ever thinking of spraining her ankle, as Ann Eliza did. Poor little foot! How swollen, though, it was when they got that boot off; but she bore it like a major! Pity she has such all-fired red hair, and piles it up like a haystack on the top of her head, with every hair looking six ways for Sunday.'

At this point in his soliloquy Tom reached home, and was soon luxuriating in a hot bath, which removed all traces of the soaking he had received. That night he dreamed of Ann Eliza, and how light she was in his arms, and how patient through it all, and that the magnificent rooms at Le Bateau were all frescoed with diamonds and the floors inlaid with gold. Then the nature of his dream changed, and it was Jerry he was carrying in his arms, bending under her weight until his back was nearly broken. But he did not heed it in the least, and when he bent to kiss the face lying upon his bosom, where Ann Eliza had lain, he awoke suddenly to find that it was morning and that the sun was shining brightly into his room.

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